Pasta salad is one of my favorite things to make for a potluck! I also bring it to horse shows pretty often. If you see people with solo cups and forks at my trailer or stall at a show, chances are they're eating pasta salad! This is one of my favorites to bring. In the fall, I usually switch it up and bring my Fall Tortellini Pasta Salad.
Recipe Notes & Tips
What if I don’t get exactly 1½ cups when I chop the pepperoni or salami? If you end up with a little more or a little less of each, that’s OK! If you’re in the range of about 1 to 2 cups of each, you’re in good shape.
What are mozzarella pearls and what if I can’t find them? Mozzarella pearls are small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese. You can usually find them in the cheese or deli section of the grocery store. If your store doesn’t carry them, just chop up some fresh mozzarella cheese into small pieces.
What can I used instead of Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix? I love the Good Seasons packets because they’re an easy shortcut. The Midnight Baker has a Copycat Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix recipe.
What is the best way to chop the meats and provolone? My Vitamix is a total workhorse in my kitchen, and I move using it for quick tasks like this. It saves time because I don’t have to chop it all by hand and it’s not as intense of a cleaning process as the food processor. You can definitely chop the meats and cheeses with a knife by hand, though.
This pasta salad is actually best if you have a chance to let it refrigerate for at least an hour before serving – this allows the flavors to really develop. But if you make it too far ahead of time without making one adjustment, the pasta salad will get dry.
If you're making it more than a few hours ahead of time, only dress it with half of the dressing. Save the rest of the dressing and add it right before serving. This helps prevent the pasta from absorbing too much of the dressing and drying out.
I use rotini (spirals) for this recipe, and I’ve used both regular and tricolor. Fusilli is also a good spiral pasta choice. Farfalle (bow tie) or penne would be good choices, too. As much as I love using fresh pasta, dried pasta is best for a pasta salad. Fresh pasta doesn’t hold up as well as dried.
Cook the pasta to al dente or slightly firm, and use well-salted pasta water. The box will often have three cooking times. I usually cook it using one of the first two, which will prevent it fro getting too soft and help it hold up better to all of the mixing and dressing.
I commit a major pasta sin and rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking and cool it off. This helps prevent the pasta from getting too soft. The Kitchn suggests dressing the pasta salad while it’s still warm (5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Pasta Salad), but I prefer to dress this one cold. I also don’t want the pasta to absorb the dressing too much because this can contribute to a salad that dries out. The flavors develop well without needing to soak into the noodles.
Italian Pasta Salad
- 2 Large mixing bowls
- Blender optional
- 1 lb rotini pasta one box
- 1½ cup chopped pepperoni
- 1½ cup chopped salami
- 6 slices provolone cheese chopped
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 8 oz mozzarella pearls drained
- 1 small red onion sliced thin
- 1 orange or yellow bell pepper chopped or sliced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- Cook pasta according to package instructions in well-salted pasta water. Meanwhile, begin preparing the vegetables and meats.
- Whisk together ingredients for the dressing and set aside.
- When pasta finishes cooking, drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until it's at least room temperature.
- Divide pasta between two large mixing bowls (unless you have a super extra large bowl). Add all ingredients except for the dressing, tomatoes, and mozzarella pearls. Stir until everything is incorporated throughout the pasta.
- Add dressing and stir until everything is evenly coated, then stir in to tomatoes and mozzarella pearls.
- Refrigerate until serving.